By Laura Amato
It’s been a pretty good summer for Corona native Hamidou Diallo.
Some might even go so far as to say that things have been nothing short of golden for the basketball standout.
Diallo—who attends Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut—made that description a bit more literal Saturday when he helped lead the 2016 USA Basketball Men’s U18 National Team to a 99-84 win over Canada in the gold medal game at the 2016 International Basketball Federation Americas U18 Championship in Valdivia, Chile.
Diallo finished with 14 points in the final game as Team USA wrapped up the tournament a perfect 5-0 on the court.
“It’s a blessing,” Diallo said of the victory. “There’s been adversity, so it’s a blessing to finally get what we came down here for. I’m happy to do it with this group of guys right here.”
The squads went back and forth early on as the lead changed five times during the second quarter, but the United States eventually settled into its offensive scheme and closed the first half with seven unanswered points.
The squad went into the second half with a 48-44 lead and, most importantly, a renewed sense of confidence.
“They hit big shot after big shot, but I knew once we settled in and ran our offense and played defense that we were going to run away with it,” Diallo said. “And that’s exactly what we did in the fourth quarter.”
Team USA started the fourth quarter with its biggest lead of the game, and then jumped out to a 15-point lead. Canada wouldn’t go away without a fight, however, and the squad made it a two-point game midway through the final quarter.
That was when Team USA’s defense went to work, turning 14 Canadian turnovers into 27 points and giving up just two points in the final 3:57 of play.
It was more than enough to secure a victory and a gold medal. It was also enough to allow Diallo to step into the spotlight a bit.
The Queens native hauled in six rebounds in the gold medal game and his performance over the weekend was more than enough to turn a few heads.
Diallo averaged 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds over the tournament’s five games, shooting 45 percent from the floor.
“It’s just fun,” Diallo said of playing with Team USA. “We are blessed to be here, and we are coming out to put on a show for the crowd. Every time we get a fast break, it’s just fun.”
Diallo has long been considered an under-the-radar prospect in the 2017 class, but his performance with Team USA may have just put him at the top of several program’s lists.
Over the last few months he’s garnered interest from the likes of Duke, Kentucky and Oregon as well as UConn whose coach, Kevin Ollie, served as an assistant coach for Team USA in Chile.
Now, Diallo is simply focused on the next step, taking the lessons he learned on Team USA with him.
“Just being humble, and being with this group of guys,” Diallo said. “We all didn’t get to play the amount that we wanted to play, but we got what we came here for. So, now we just got to go back to our homes and work on our games to get better.”